"It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do." ~ Edmund Burke
Laws and Sausages
The old joke has it that anyone who likes sausages or laws should not watch either of them being made; and there is something in that, though it's a long way short of the whole truth. Here, let's dig deeper. The viciously corrupt, immoral way in which laws are created, and their bizarre and unpredictable effects on the economy, are not the primary reasons why we should despise them all.
My recent article on the Declaration of Independence drew some flak for saying the "Founders actually supposed that there are such things as laws that are 'wholesome and necessary for the public good'! Where had these guys been?" Some earnest readers, having failed to read what I wrote, chastised me for ridiculing and opposing wholesome conduct. Even so, that provocative sentence may bear closer scrutiny.
Let's imagine that there is, or was once, on some distant planet a pure law whose only objective is to promote virtuous behavior and which is enacted with total disregard for any special interests bearing gifts. Can I really oppose it?
Certainly I can, and will, and here's why and how.
The Founders (and my critics) were and are confused, contradictory and dangerous because they failed to consider the meaning of words--here, words like "laws" and "wholesome" and "necessary"--before leaping to use them. Allow me to help out.
First, what exactly is a "law"? Very simply, it's a one-sided contract; the lawmakers sign it, but those controlled by it do not. A group of thugs gets together and makes a rule to control society. Its effects are imposed upon others by force, whether they agree with it or not, and whether in their sovereign right as human self-owners they would have chosen the mandated course of action or not. The group always makes some claim regarding a supposed right to impose such rules, which it calls "legitimacy"; usually sonorous phrases are invented for the purpose such as "Divine Right" or "Wise Leadership" or "Servants (!) of the People" or "Duly Elected Representatives."
But at root, a law is not a recommendation but a rule, and if by any remote chance 100.0% of the affected population were to endorse it, its superfluity would be incontrovertible. It is the imposition of will by one group of humans over another. It is, therefore, anathematic towards human nature, i.e., self-ownership. Laws are absolute denials of the right to life. Instead of being a genuine (two-sided) contract, voluntarily drawn and signed by all parties (which is the way a free society would order itself, with no violation of rights whatever) laws ignore the sovereign wishes of those affected. That is why we should despise them all, no matter what their purpose and no matter what their effect.
Hence to "wholesome"; what might that mean?
Dictionary.com says it is what "Promot[es] mental, moral, or social health." Is that what laws do? Not at all! By forcing some people--perhaps as many as 49% of the whole society--to act in conflict with their own best judgments, laws always promote mental stress in that part of society--the very opposite of sound mental health. At once, therefore, the Founders' phrase is an oxymoron in the making.
How about "moral" health; can that be achieved by laws? Not in the slightest degree! For moral health has to do with freely made choices to do the right thing, to act in a moral way. If there is no choice--if one is forced to be charitable, for example--then there is neither morality nor immorality and the human spirit is impoverished in consequence.
How, then, about "social" health--can that be promoted by laws? Presumably "social" has something to do with interpersonal relationships and the idea that the force of law can produce kindness and courtesy is seen to be ridiculous as soon as it is spelled out. Johnny is told to be nice to Aunt Mabel and says Yes Mommy and offers her more cake, but once out of sight makes a gagging gesture . . . you know the scene! Good neighborliness happens voluntarily, or it doesn't happen at all.
For all three reasons therefore "wholesome laws" is a grotesque oxymoron, a totally meaningless phrase designed only to disguise the true nature of what laws are.
Finally then to Thomas Paine's old nemesis: can laws ever be "necessary for the public good"? The "public good" refers to benefits for society as a whole, but "society as a whole" does not exist in reality; society consists only in a collection of individuals. As far as we can define it, therefore, the "public good" must be about maximizing the presence of attributes such as peace and harmony and justice among those members. Can laws do that? And are they "necessary," in the sense that such fine objectives could not be realized without laws?
The very notion is ludicrous. Let me try to demolish that myth by taking a popular though rather trivial example: we all agree, don't we, that it's a good idea ("necessary for the public good") that everyone shall drive everywhere on one side of the road only--say, the right. Yes?
No, not I. A driving-side change is not as formidable as many Americans suppose, as anyone who has driven in Japan or the UK can attest; but even if such uniformity were desirable it still gives no license to confuse the end with the means, nor to grant the silent but underlying premise that government should own and operate the roads--complete with eminent domain, gas taxes, DMVs, compulsory insurance laws, licenses, traffic jams, speed traps, potholes and all.
Once it's realized that a free market could perfectly well develop and maintain a road industry on the exclusive basis of voluntary contracts, it becomes clear that laws (recall their definition, above) are needed no more in that industry than in any other. Very probably, no road vendor in North America would offer usage-contracts with a clause specifying left-side drive, but no law must stop him if he does! It's his investment, his potential customers, his risk. The "public good," here as elsewhere, is a puff of political flatulence.
Laws, like the governments that write them, never bring any net benefit to society but instead distort its functions, destroy its harmony and devastate the rights and damage the humanity of its members. High time we corrected the Founders' error--albeit 228 years late--and consigned the lot of them to history's ash-can.